How does one handle bullying when it comes in the form of call-outs?
December 2, 2016 1:35 PM   Subscribe

How do you handle what feels like bullying behavior from someone when that bullying behavior is being expressed, for lack of a better word, in the form of demands that you check your privilege? I am involved in a community where one member has an unflagging dedication to pointing out my insensitivity and bias, citing infractions that they do not call out in others and haven't been pointed out by other community members.

I am a member of a private social media group. It is casual but has a sharp eye on social justice. It is a great and supportive group filled with a lot of amazing people and perspectives, and designed as a safe space so as to be inclusive of people coming from less privileged identities. However, for a while now it has felt like one group member--and only one--has kind of had it in for me. It manifests, for lack of a better term, in the form of social justice "corrections".

They are increasingly scrupulous about demanding content warnings, and when I do give content warnings there is generally a reason they are not good enough. They frequently get involved in my conversations with other members solely for the purpose of telling me I am somehow violating community guidelines. Finally, when they engage with the topic at hand, it feels that they take my comments in the worst possible faith and twist my words in order to criticize me for not being sufficiently socially aware. For example, when I expressed frustration with sexism among male Trump voters, they claimed I was arguing that if a man didn't vote for Trump it was proof he wasn't sexist. This is despite my larger history of participation within the group that demonstrated, again and again, that this was not something I believed nor ever had. But because that single comment did not address non-Trump-voting men specifically, they used it as an opportunity to call out my ignorance and privilege. It feels like they are looking for ways that I fuck up, and if they can't find one then they invent it.

They're not an admin for the group, nor a person designated to do this task. Normally I would assume they're being scrupulous, take the criticism, and move on. It's part of the process!

But three things are making this difficult. First, I'm largely the only person they're doing this to. They maintain significantly more relaxed standards for other members of the community. Second, these criticisms are generally the only way they engage with any of my activity. As in the only time they interact with me is when they're explaining how I'm being problematic. This is not how they treat others in the community, including people coming from my particular intersection of privilege (or higher). Third, I'm not getting these criticisms from anyone else. Just this single person sitting in judgement of everything I write.

Normally if someone has a problem with me then I go to them directly and work it out. However, I have no idea how to do this because all of this is happening under the ostensibly admirable guise of calling out my privilege. I can't exactly claim they're bullying me, it will appear I'm just being defensive. To further complicate the issue, my intersectional identity is more privileged than their own, so that dynamic works against my ability to push back, as well.

I have never met this person nor interacted with them in a private or one-on-one setting. I haven't criticized them, nor, to my knowledge, have I criticized their friends. This feels very out-of-the-blue, like one day they broke out this next level Mean GirlsTM shit and never looked back.

I believe in safe spaces, content warnings, and interrogating one's own privilege. I have no issues with that. Honestly, I feel awkward even writing the question, because (A) I keep wondering if it's all in my head and maybe I'm just being a brat and (B) I don't want to give the impression that I think those things are bad. But I cannot shake the feelings that this is personal: they simply don't like me, and they're using the language of social justice rhetoric to express it.

Can someone advise me on what to do here? It's not that I don't want to be checked. I would simply like to be held to the same standards as everyone else. Posting in this community is an increasingly anxious and unpleasant experience because of this single person's dedication to pointing out how shitty I am. I like the group a lot, but I am starting to think about leaving entirely.
posted by Hey nonny nonny mouse to Human Relations (28 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is there a moderator or set of moderators for the group? If so it might be helpful to explore this with them. Ask in an exploratory way as you did here "I wanted to bring something up to you to get your opinion. I notice that Y has been commenting frequently on my posts and it feels very critical, but I also want to kind of check with an impartial observer to see if I'm missing something because of my privilege."

They may be able to point out something you weren't picking up on or if this person is truly making this personal might be able to weigh in about that dynamic.
posted by goggie at 1:42 PM on December 2, 2016 [16 favorites]


Assuming a sanity check with another member of the group doesn't return feedback that you're just a big old privilege-denying jerkbag, go ahead and block this person! And then continue to be your imperfect, privilege aware, good-faith self without seeing anything they post ever again. If anyone asks you why, you can say, I was spending too much energy worrying about their constant monitoring. If he or she asks you YOU WON'T KNOW BECAUSE HEYYYY BLOCKED!
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 1:50 PM on December 2, 2016 [12 favorites]


If there is an admin, take it up privately with the admin. If that does not work, consider leaving because:

It is a great and supportive group filled with a lot of amazing people and perspectives, and designed as a safe space so as to be inclusive of people coming from less privileged identities.

If you are being consistently harassed by this person and absolutely no one is doing anything about it, your group is probably not as fantastic as you think it is. In a decent group, other people will call them on their obviously abusive shit. When no one is speaking up, the problem is not just that one individual. It runs deeper than that.
posted by Michele in California at 1:51 PM on December 2, 2016 [44 favorites]


If this was happening on MetaFilter, you'd talk to a mod and they would keep an eye on the situation, give you feedback about whether they had also observed the situation (so you could feel okay about it not being all in your head) and if it were getting out of hand, talk to the person. If it were not out of hand the mods might suggest you talk to them yourself. Like, obviously if the person is antagonizing you, it's not your job to make nice. But if they've just got some weird issue that a simple polite word might calm, that might be worth it,

I assume someone in your community has the keys in some way. I'd ask them if they could just see if what you think is happening seems to be happening. Not even complaining yet (I mean it's obviously something you don't like) but "Is it me or does XYZ seem to go out of their way to correct me when they don't do that to other people. I'd appreciate a second set of eyes on this"

This is an unfortunate thing that can sometimes happen in communities with a social justice bent. Sometimes people don't even know they're doing this or it's a side effect of their own awkward identity issues, anxieties, or feeling about their own standing with in the community. At some level if no one else in the community is picking up on it, it may be that other people have made their peace with that user's weird approach. I might ask a person or two for a second opinion (if there are other people you like there) to see how they deal with it. If that user isn't getting any traction, try to reframe it as their own issue.

There were definitely users who treated me that way when I was a mod here and I had to set my own boundaries of what I thought was reasonable and whether I was meeting my own (and the general community's) expectations for how I treated others. And, at some level , if some users weren't satisfied with how I behaved, that was sort of on them after we'd gone as far as we could go. Having some sidebar conversations with mods and users helped me do that. Best of luck this sounds frustrating.
posted by jessamyn at 1:52 PM on December 2, 2016 [24 favorites]


You know how there is a certain amount of social programming to get members of a group to "police themselves," and sometimes this is an innocent by-product of the larger conversations being had, and sometimes it's being done in bad faith? Yeah.

You might really want to re-think your online involvements if this is going on. I was just talking about this today, how some of these conversations have the divisive result of dis-including folks who are all about and all supportive of inclusivity. It's a tough one. There is a difference between dismantling norms and language that make a subtle sort of "culture of white dominance" comfortable (and preferable for closet racists) vs. picking on people for the same thing you are all supposedly united on. None of us can help what we we're born into, what matters is how we treat each other once we get here. I know.

Can you shift out of this into something else? I'm assuming folks who are having these conversations really need to air whatever grievance, and it's cool you put up with it, and it is OK to simply move on.

No. I don't think there is verbal jiu jitsu to employ, maybe someone else has a better idea than quietly opting out?

Do good in your life. If responding would mean being misunderstood and creating further negativity, don't. That's actually a pretty admirable feat!
posted by jbenben at 1:52 PM on December 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


Honestly I would just block this person. Unless it's a group with like 5 people in it, they will assume you left and even if/when they realise you didn't there's nothing they can do about it that you'll know about because you won't be able to see one another anyway. They are trolling you, you can't really fix it except to stop feeding them. Life is WAY too short for this IRL, never mind on social media!
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:54 PM on December 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


I would leave a group like that so fast there would be a me-shaped hole in the wall where I exited.
This asshole is picking on you relentlessly and no one else seems to be coming to your defense, whether mods or other members. Either 1) you are actually somehow tone deaf to the whole scene and genuinely fucking up more than other people are and you don't realize it, or 2) nobody gives a shit that you are being picked on, or 3) everyone is too afraid of your bully to say anything. If it is #1 a mod or admin should probably have taken you aside by now, not to do so is kind of shitty on their part. If the situation is 2 or 3, that is shitty on the part of everyone else. I'd be like "bye, bitches!"
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:54 PM on December 2, 2016 [23 favorites]


Regardless of whether or not you block the person (if that's possible) stop engaging with them. They aren't worth your time, and any time you reply and try to defend yourself you are giving them the validation that they seek.

If they ever start going after another user in the same way, consider speaking up, but not to the bully, just say something like "I think Bully is not seeing this issue through an appropriate lens" and leave it at that.

Shitty people love to pretend that they are on the side of the angels. Sorry you have to deal with one.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:25 PM on December 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'd confront the person openly in the forum the next time he's policing you.

"Hey, Bob. You (and only you) seem to be especially concerned with the way that I (and it's mostly just me) express myself. If you've got a genuine problem with that, the polite thing to do would be a word in private. If your goal is to discourage me from participating at all, save yourself the effort: I'm not going anywhere."

I don't know what the culture of that group is like, but in general, I find a presumption of good faith on the part of one's counterparts is necessary for smooth communications. It seems like he doesn't see things that way.
posted by adamrice at 2:27 PM on December 2, 2016 [16 favorites]


I've been in this same situation before. In fact I got in yet another internet battle this week wherein I was the one *standing up for* a social justice issue, but the admin who has a weird grudge against me decided to run counter -- with the accusation that I was making "blanket statements" against fundamentalist Christian churches with anti-LGBT agendas and which run crisis pregnancy centers -- because apparently Facebook is junior high.

My usual M.O. is to ignore, move on, and remember that unlike junior high, I'm not legally required to participate.

When someone -- even this person who appears to have a problem with me -- is talking about legitimate social justice issues, I always try to listen and accept their thoughts even if I don't immediately agree or if I deeply dislike the source. I usually won't perform apologies and shame on the social media platform in question, but I do try to listen and make sure I'm not being a fool for kneejerk personal reasons. If there is a kernel of truth to their accusations, I do try to take it into account going forward, so that I'm always learning to be a better ally. That's all you can really do, in my experience.
posted by Sara C. at 2:48 PM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


There are actually quite a lot of things you can do, but they take time and require a lot of information that isn't included here and yadda, which is why I am recommending you seek assistance from an admin or leave. You don't sound like you have any idea where to start, so this question is sort of like hoping to get your PHD from a Cracker Jack box. There is a lot of background knowledge that goes into figuring out how to handle something like this effectively and you aren't likely to get the requisite information/education from a single question on Ask Me.

But if you really want to make the attempt on your own, this is where you should start:

This feels very out-of-the-blue, like one day they broke out this next level Mean GirlsTM shit and never looked back.

Because it probably isn't really your privilege or the way you write or any of the things they are ostensibly picking on. It probably really is something incredibly personal, such as:
  • You remind them of someone who seriously wronged them (like the person their ex had an affair with, for example).
  • You are too much like them and looking at you upsets the hell out of them for reasons related to being some sort of reminder of some deep fear or pain related to themselves.
  • They find you attractive, you haven't noticed and "hell hath no fury like a (gender) scorned".
  • You talk openly about some aspect of yourself that offends and pains them for some reason.
etc.
This will almost certainly be something they will never admit to even if you can figure out what the likely culprit is. But keeping an eye out for clues to some sort of personal pain that you may be inflaming by your very existence may give you clues to how to side step the problem.

But it requires you to have compassion for someone you have every reason to be really angry at. That's something most people don't do all that well.
posted by Michele in California at 3:24 PM on December 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


There are admins inasmuch as they created the group. Their role doesn't seem to do a lot of individual policing, save to moderate discussions along the lines of "how does the community want to approach topic [X]".

For what it's worth, it is very rare to see pushback from the community against any callout. I think the assumption is that the person doing the calling out has the right to ask for a safe space. This particular person also tends to be pretty insistent on the correctness of their callout if someone makes a tangential comment, as well.
posted by Hey nonny nonny mouse at 4:09 PM on December 2, 2016


Also: blocking is definitely not an option. I am certain that would definitely be against the guidelines of the community since it would be like I was trying to shut out valid criticism. I think it would be noticed pretty quickly.
posted by Hey nonny nonny mouse at 5:31 PM on December 2, 2016


This sounds like a group I was previously a part of, and I had to deal with this issue as an admin. Pick an admin or two that you trust and ping them privately and talk about the issue. At the very least you'll get some sense of what the perception of the situation is. You can ask for help on de-escalation, you may get some insight into the person's behavior, and you can evaluate better what you want to do next.
posted by bile and syntax at 5:36 PM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


> This particular person also tends to be pretty insistent on the correctness of their callout if someone makes a tangential comment, as well.

Between this and the apparently pretty hands-off nature of the moderation, I think your best two choices (neither of them very good, to be clear) are: 1) Do not engage. At all. Pretend you have a killfile for them and you just never see their comments; 2) Bare-minimum engagement, e.g. "Thank you for your feedback," and that's it - no back-and-forth, no derailing a thread over what they said vs what you said etc. A brief acknowledgement that they addressed you, you saw it, and you move on with your conversation with other members/topic.
posted by rtha at 6:03 PM on December 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


There are admins inasmuch as they created the group. Their role doesn't seem to do a lot of individual policing, save to moderate discussions along the lines of "how does the community want to approach topic [X]".

Have you contacted them privately about this? That should be step one. Only after you know for an actual fact (based on what they tell you) that they will not help you should you dismiss that possibility.

They may not help. But you need to bring it to their attention and not just assume there is no point. In a large enough group, sometimes the mods miss patterns of behavior between two specific individuals.

How they respond will also be enormously useful information for deciding step two. If they just don't care at all, not their problem, then the problem is not just this one member.

I mean, the odds are good that this problem is deeper than just this one person anyway. But if you don't even bother to talk to the admins and you don't know how to effectively sidestep this, that leaves you with only two options: suffer through or leave.
posted by Michele in California at 6:34 PM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also: blocking is definitely not an option. I am certain that would definitely be against the guidelines of the community since it would be like I was trying to shut out valid criticism. I think it would be noticed pretty quickly.

I find it hard to believe that the admins would take action against you for ignoring this person but not take action against them for bothering you, but never mind. If that's truly the case, this group is not worth your time. Friends don't make friends listen to abuse from Internet randos as a pre-requisite for engaging with them. Ask the admins for help, if they don't help, block this person, and if you get kicked out for blocking them, then fine, you get kicked out -- you were thinking of leaving anyway, weren't you?
posted by phoenixy at 7:03 PM on December 2, 2016 [14 favorites]


Oh yeah, I know a ton of groups like this. Bullies come in every flavor and the SJW toolkit can empower them to be particularly pugnacious.

1) admins, failing that: 2) block 3) ignore 4) quit 5) kill asshole with kindness; "Good point!!! That really echoes what I was saying with..." to every. single. statement.
posted by fritillary at 7:22 PM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am not usually snarky but I have seen this kind of behavior end when confronted with some minor not-mean snark. Such as,

"hey guys I have some thoughts on X and yes, [meangirl] will rightly point out that my perspective is driven by my experience as a [privileged person] but [mission statement of group] says all opinions are valid so here goes: ..."

"here's what I did in that situation (cue [meangirl] saying I'm out of bounds but hear me out)"

"if the opinion of [privileged person] is still welcome ([meangirl]?) here's my two cents"

etc.

Or just go on as you have, and in response to meangirl's protests, say "Yes I thought you'd say that" or "so you've said" or "again?"

If you reply to her interjections with apologies for being the person you are, it will never end. Reply with a virtual eye-roll because the kind of rudeness this person is engaging in is sad no matter her background or yours.
posted by headnsouth at 7:25 PM on December 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


A different option that I've seen work in similar situations is extreme curiosity, where you are puzzled by what they mean and need them to be absolutely explicit.

But absolutely reconsider if it's really as supportive a place as you think.
posted by A hidden well at 8:35 PM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I thought you explained your dilemma very well in your post. Why not post that to the other group and ask for feedback? I suspect it will cause a big blow up. But it sounds like this group needs to blow a bit. You will know where you stand afterwards and can decide whether it is worth staying in the group or leaving.

You could also just leave and start your own new group, be the admin, and block the person from joining.

Good luck. It's awful when shit like this happens in a group that you have previously enjoyed.
posted by cairnoflore at 9:15 PM on December 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


Can someone advise me on what to do here?

I would just reply to everything they say with some variation on "I hadn't considered that perspective, that's something I'll have to give some thought to." And that's it. Do not engage further. Do not hint that you are right; do not concede that they are right. Treat them respectfully, but distantly. They cannot bully you if their words have no power over you.

That's the drama killing method. Every other approach essentially means drawing in other group members and getting them render a judgement on whose behaviour is out of bounds, here. That way drama lies. This person doesn't like you; they see everything they're saying as justified, and you aren't going to get them to change their mind.

But you aren't required to change yours, either. What you are required to do is check your privilege, to make a good faith effort to examine your motives and perceptions for unconscious bias. If you're doing that's all they can ask. Maybe sometimes their hectoring will contain a good point. And it can be valuable to be able to understand and anticipate what the least charitable interpretation of your words would be in a given situation.
posted by Diablevert at 5:35 AM on December 3, 2016 [7 favorites]


Passive aggressive people are gonna passive aggress. That's what you're up against here, or so it seems to me. Who knows why you rather than someone else; myself, I think that some -- not all but some -- for myself I think that some passive aggressive people can feel me in a group, like how a shark can detect erratic swimming of a fish or person that they can easily strike. And they strike.

Often they'd pass a lie detector test: "Melvin, are you actively being a piece of shit in your interactions with Myrtle?" And Melvin's response, straight up is "Oh god no, whatever do you mean? Gosh, this is awfully confusing to me." The way I've found to deal with them is to ignore ignore ignore, just literally walk past them. I'm not sure how that'd go over in your group; I *love* headnsouth's comment, part of which is excerpted here:

Or just go on as you have, and in response to meangirl's protests, say "Yes I thought you'd say that" or "so you've said" or "again?"

If you reply to her interjections with apologies for being the person you are, it will never end. Reply with a virtual eye-roll because the kind of rudeness this person is engaging in is sad no matter her background or yours.
posted by headnsouth at 9:25 PM on December 2


This person will immediately know they're busted, they'll immediately know that the game is over, though they'll likely try again and yet again to hook you back into the game (though less over time) because they've enjoyed having a punching bag.

If they go totally psycho at this point, and if at this point there is no support for you from within the group, wave them all a cheery "Bye now!" and find yourself a civil community. It's a big ol' world, lots of good communities to be part of, might just be that you're going to have to cut loose from this community which is rife with incivility and head on out and find you a good one or three.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:46 AM on December 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I might go the courageously vulnerable route and actually solicit criticism.

"I've had my privilege checked a couple of times in this group -- examples here, and here. I wanted to ask the community, is there something I could be doing better? I'm actually really committed to social justice, but sometimes you don't know what you don't know. So if there is something I could be doing better, please let me know."

Do not defend yourself. Maybe don't even point out that the bully is the one doing the callouts every time. One of three things will happen:

A bunch of people will say, yeah, you're acting privileged in ways X, Y, and Z. I actually think this is kind of unlikely but if it happens, yay! You learned something. This is not a terrible outcome.

Or somebody will say, "No, you're fine, and I actually think you've been remarkably patient with Bully up till now." (Even if no one says it, I'll bet you anything several people are thinking it.)

Third, and I think most likely, is that the bystanders will connect the dots for the first time. I bet a lot of members think of this as a group where "people" call each other out a lot, but don't realize it is actually one specific person calling out another specific person over and over.

Bullies rely on their target feeling shame, and if you open yourself up to criticism in the spirit of self improvement, you basically take that weapon away.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:13 AM on December 3, 2016 [12 favorites]


"A different option that I've seen work in similar situations is extreme curiosity, where you are puzzled by what they mean and need them to be absolutely explicit."

I came back here to add this exact tactic! Politely ask them to clarify their position until they notice how fucked they are being all on their own.
posted by jbenben at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also: blocking is definitely not an option. I am certain that would definitely be against the guidelines of the community since it would be like I was trying to shut out valid criticism. I think it would be noticed pretty quickly.

Then by definition it is not a safe space. It's a fake one where bullies get to bully under the excuse of "correction" and the bullied are not allowed to escape. What kind if community is it? It sounds like the Cultural Revolution.

I would leave, personally. I have left multiple feminist discussion group for exactly this sort of bullshit. I have seen someone called out for writing "it's obvious that rape should require a trigger warning" because they didn't tw that they were going to use the word "rape" (although how were they meant to do so without using the word? It's beyond me!). I have a lot of 30-50yo friends who have abandoned online discussion groups for exactly this reason. It's just faceless words on a screen, it's not worth any angst whatsoever.

Find another space that is genuinely safe.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 2:37 PM on December 3, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've left a group because people started nitpicking everything I said. Unfortunately, once one person started, other people were feeling free to join right in. I started nitpicking myself and censoring my speech in an attempt to make myself less horrible to them (or whatever), and it didn't work because even the most innocuous things were ticking them off. Once someone e-mailed me privately when I hadn't checked the list that day and said, "I can't believe how horrible they're being to you!" I realized I was not the kind of person they wanted there and left.

If blocking and mods aren't an option, and you are literally not in a safe space for you any more because of that person, is it somewhere you really want to be any more?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:58 PM on December 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


A follow up: I decided to phase out my participation in the group in favor of engaging in these conversations elsewhere. I miss the group, but I've come to terms with the fact that the group I miss is the one that existed before all this happened.
posted by Hey nonny nonny mouse at 5:54 PM on March 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


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